If you're in college, or if you have a loved one who attends college, you probably already know: students make mistakes. Sometimes lots of mistakes. They forget to change the oil in their cars. They go out for pizza when they should be home studying for a big exam. They run up huge overdue fines on library books. That's all normal. They're living on their own for the first time, making their own decisions and establishing their own boundaries.
The problem is the educational stakes have gotten much higher in recent years. No one gets a good job without a college education, and universities don't take anything—even library fines—lightly. If you want to survive, it's not enough just to go along and hope nothing bad happens. You have to be prepared. You have to know the rules. You have to know the consequences of breaking them. You have to know how to get out of trouble once you're in it.
Academic, Disciplinary, and Sexual Misconduct
There are a lot of different colleges in Wisconsin, and they all have their own philosophy for how to maintain student discipline. It's important, then, that you take the time to look up your particular school's code of conduct. This will tell you exactly what your school expects from you.
However, there are certain fundamental aspects of discipline that virtually every school subscribes to. One of these is that there are three basic types of misconduct.
Schools generally frown on academic dishonesty, and you can understand why. You're going to have trouble finding a good job once you graduate if your university has a reputation for cheating. Thus, every Wisconsin school has strict policies designed to make sure students aren't taking shortcuts and to punish any who are.
Academic misconduct usually means either cheating, plagiarism, or some other form of misrepresentation. Forging a doctor's note to get out of an exam is a bad idea, and professors have been known to fail students for signing a classmate's name to the attendance sheet.
At most schools, instructors have almost total authority to discover and punish academic misconduct. Sanctions can include written warnings, makeup assignments, lowered grades on assignments, or even a lower grade in the course.
Your school also probably requires that instructors report all incidents of academic misconduct to an administrative office. That office may assign you a stiffer penalty, including expulsion, if the violation is serious enough or if you have a history of misconduct.
Usually, disciplinary misconduct refers to misbehavior that occurs outside the classroom. Again, schools often differ on minor infractions, but when it comes to serious issues, they tend to have remarkably similar rules.
- Drug possession: Possession and distribution of controlled substances is illegal under both Wisconsin and federal law. As a result, you can expect every school in the state to have strict policies against these activities.
- Underage drinking: Drinking is also illegal if you're under the age of 21, and all schools prohibit it. In addition, some schools severely limit how and when those over 21 can drink as well.
- Hazing: Because it often leads to dangerous activities, including underage drinking, hazing is banned at virtually every college and university in Wisconsin.
- Residential violations: Most schools have a separate set of policies that govern behaviors in on-campus housing, including dormitories and student apartments. These can include rules about anything, from how loud you can play your music to whether or not you can take the screens off your windows.
- Hate crimes: Here again, hate crimes against protected groups are illegal according to federal law. However, many colleges punish harassment that is based on sex, race, age, religion, or disability, even if it doesn't rise to the level of a federal crime.
Unlike vandalism or simple assault, Most instances of sexual misconduct are governed by federal law, Title IX. As a result, schools typically treat sexually-based offenses as their own category of policy violation, even though it is technically another kind of general disciplinary misconduct.
In fact, Title IX mandates a very specific set of rules and procedures that all schools must follow in investigating and adjudicating instances of sexual misconduct.
· First, every school must maintain and publish policies for dealing with sexual misconduct allegations.
· In addition, all schools must appoint a Title IX Coordinator. Anyone may report misconduct, and some schools require all faculty and staff to do so. However, only a complainant or a coordinator can sign an official complaint.
· Under Title IX, schools are required to provide support services to victims. These must include medical care and counseling but may include other accommodations like course changes and no-contact orders. Title IX also entitles respondents to all the same support services that complainants receive.
· Title IX guarantees a number of due process rights to respondents. Among these, they have the right to be notified of any charges against them. They have the right to be presumed innocent until proven responsible; they have the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney; and they have the right to review all evidence against them.
· Following an official complaint, the coordinator assigns an Investigator to uncover the facts in the case. Investigators meet with both parties separately, collect any physical evidence, and interview any relevant witnesses.
· Once the investigation is complete, the Investigator issues a written report. Both sides have the right to review this report and suggest revisions.
· Once the report has been submitted, the coordinator must set a date for a live hearing and choose one or more decision-makers to preside over this hearing.
· Both sides have the right to present evidence and—through their advisors—question the other party and any witnesses against them.
· At the conclusion of the hearing, decision-makers deliberate and issue a final ruling on whether or not the respondent is responsible for a violation.
· Finally, both sides in the case have the right to appeal the hearing decision under certain specific conditions, such as the discovery of new evidence or procedural mistakes in the Title IX investigation.
For many years colleges and universities used Title IX almost exclusively as the template for all sexual misconduct investigations. This changed, however, in 2020, when the Trump administration issued brand new Title IX guidelines, known as the Final Rule. These narrowed schools' jurisdictional authority, limited the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment,” and gave new rights to accused students. A number of schools responded by creating new policies to cover “non-Title IX” sexual misconduct, sexually-based offenses that no longer qualified under Title IX. Importantly, because these cases aren't covered under federal law, schools are free to invent any judicial procedures they want for handing them. Many schools do use Title IX procedures for both kinds of cases, but some have their own unique systems, and not all of these go as far as Title IX in protecting respondents' rights.
How Wisconsin Colleges Manage Misconduct
Obviously, schools differ in how they handle misconduct cases. Some investigate absolutely every accusation, for example, while others only investigate the most serious kinds of misconduct. In general, though, most schools follow a similar process in investigating and adjudicating accusations.
- Notice: Your school should let you know of any allegations that have been made against you. This notice should make clear exactly what you're accused of doing and explain your rights. Sometimes this comes as soon as an accusation is made. Other times it isn't issued until an official investigation has begun.
- Preliminary meetings: Whatever the accusation, someone should meet with you to hear your side of the case. If the misconduct is academic, this will likely be your instructor. In other cases, it might be an administrator or even an investigator. You may be asked to attend a series of these meetings to help establish the basic facts in the case.
- Investigation: Schools don't typically investigate minor policy violations. If you've been accused of plagiarizing an essay, your instructor may simply confront you with examples from your work. However, in cases where you might be suspended or expelled, most schools do conduct some kind of inquiry into the facts of the case.
- Hearings: Here again, you aren't always entitled to defend yourself at a hearing. Sometimes a committee may decide your guilt or innocence without getting direct input from any of the parties involved. However, most schools do provide hearings in cases where suspension or expulsion are the most likely penalties.
- Appeals: Schools generally offer some sort of appeals process as a check on disciplinary processes. Sometimes appeals are made to a board or committee. Other times, single individuals, such as the Dean of Students or the Provost, determine the outcome.
Handling Your School's Investigation
It's important to have a plan now, even if you haven't been accused of anything, for how you will handle a misconduct charge.
- You should avoid talking to any university official or administrator, even campus law enforcement or a Title IX investigator until you've spoken with an attorney. Your school may insist you give your side of the story and penalize you if you don't, but no one can make you talk before you've had a chance to prepare. Your attorney may very well be able to represent you in these conversations, but even if they can't, they can prepare you for what you will face.
- Don't talk to anyone who's not connected to the case. It can be useful to tell one or two friends about what's happening to you, but as a general rule, limit who knows about your situation. This applies particularly to social media. Trying to argue your side of the case online can prejudice the public against you or even result in additional charges.
- Don't talk to the complainant. It is tempting to believe that if you can just talk to the person who's made an accusation against you, you can sort everything out without involving school officials. This is always a bad idea. In some cases, your school may already have issued a no-contact order prohibiting you from talking to the complainant. Even if they haven't, though, doing so will likely only make the situation worse.
- Collect evidence and maintain records. As soon as you can, write down your version of events while it's still fresh in your mind. In addition, collect evidence and identify witnesses. Remember that you should never get rid of anything. You may think a video tends to make you look guilty, but your attorney may know how to use it to prove your innocence.
- Take care of yourself. An investigation, even into a minor offense, can be stressful. You can't adequately defend yourself, though, if you allow this stress to overwhelm you. Maintain your routines: go to class, exercise, hang out with friends. Give yourself mental health breaks when you can. In addition, it can be helpful to seek counseling. Often therapists can offer useful methods for dealing with stress or simply serve as a sounding board for venting your frustrations
- Most importantly, make sure you retain the services of a good attorney, someone experienced at dealing with campus misconduct cases. University justice is almost always complicated, and the sanctions can be severe. As a result, you should never try to deal with a case on your own. Sometimes an attorney can represent you, even speaking on your behalf. In other instances, their role may be limited to “advisor.” In any case, though, they can do things like help you develop a strategy for defending yourself or coach you in how to respond to questions.
Your College's Disciplinary Hearings
Almost all schools will allow you to defend yourself at a live hearing if the charges are serious. Many hold hearings in virtually all misconduct cases. You should always take advantage of this opportunity if it is presented. This is your chance to be sure that decision-makers consider all of your evidence and that they connect a real person to the facts of the case.
Like every other aspect of campus justice, the rules for how hearings are conducted vary from school to school. Some universities will allow you to question witnesses directly, for instance, while others will only allow decision-makers to ask questions. In general, though, all hearings work in roughly the same way. You should have a chance to present evidence and call witnesses. Then one or more decision-makers will decide whether or not you are responsible for a violation.
Most schools allow you to choose an advisor who can accompany you to hearings, and usually, this advisor can be an attorney. Some schools will let the advisor speak on your behalf; others expressly forbid them from talking directly with decision-makers. In any case, they can be invaluable for crafting a defense strategy, offering presentation suggestions, even formulating questions for witnesses.
Possible Wisconsin College Sanctions
Colleges and universities in Wisconsin generally offer the same sorts of sanctions for misconduct. These can include:
· Written warnings
· Loss of on-campus housing
· Loss of privileges such as extracurricular activities
· Mandated counseling
· Loss of scholarships or other financial aid
Keep in mind that whatever the sanction, an allegation of misconduct, even for a minor offense, is a serious matter. If you're found responsible, even for something simple like plagiarism, the violation can wind up in your permanent academic record. That can cost you scholarships, it can keep you from getting into graduate school, it can even interfere with your ability to start your career. Few employers want to hire a recent graduate with a record of cheating or vandalism on their transcript. Never blindly accept an accusation against you or the sanction that comes with it.
The Lento Law Firm
If you find yourself doing battle with your school, the most important thing you can do is make sure you have someone in your corner fighting along with you. You can't take on the entire weight of your university alone. You need an attorney, someone who can make sure your rights are protected and that you put forward the strongest possible defense.
Not just any lawyer will do, though. University misconduct cases involve very particular kinds of procedures, often much different from those used in a court of law. Only someone who is practiced at dealing with these procedures will know how to craft a successful defense strategy.
Joseph D. Lento specializes in student defense. He built his career helping students just like you prove their innocence. He's dealt with every kind of case, from simple cheating allegations to accusations of assault and date rape. Whatever your situation, Joseph D. Lento will make sure you get the very best outcome.
If you or your child has been accused of misconduct by your Wisconsin school, don't wait to act. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.